The Dark Crystal was one of my favorite childhood movies – even though it was objectively terrifying – so it should come as no surprise that the news of the Netflix series was a joyous occasion. During the E3 announcement for BonusXP’s tactics game, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, I was one of (maybe) two people in our office who audibly WHOO’d when Aughra showed up during the Nintendo press conference.
Despite my initial excitement, however, I was wary – a Dark Crystal show tie-in game, while an understandable choice on Netflix’s part, seemed like an odd one, especially once we learned it was a turn-based-tactics game. I didn’t know if it could work outside of a very specific target audience, and if I’m being honest I was skeptical that the world would translate to the TBT formula.
Now, having had a chance to see and play DC: AoRT for myself, I came away knowing two things: (1) the BonusXP has crafted a seemingly solid tactics game that’s smartly woven into the lore of the world, and (2) aside from die-hard fans of the movie (and, perhaps, new recruits from the Netflix show), I’m still not entirely sure who this game is for.
Dark Crystal: AoR Tactics’s campaign follows the same story as the events of the Netflix series, but the game won’t release until considerably later than the show’s August 30th premiere (there’s currently no set release date, just the nebulous “later in 2019”). There will be a handful of side missions that expand upon other characters storylines in the series, but even so, the majority of Dark Crystal Tactics’ story will likely be familiar to most of its players, but will take considerably longer to get through than the binge-able Netflix show.
Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean there won’t be joy to be found in revisiting the series’ plot again. “[The Netflix] season Plus-Plus, is sort of how we refer to it,” says David Whitfield, Project Manager for Tactics’ publisher En Masse Entertainment. “There are moments in the show where characters will leave. They’ll be gone for a while, and they’ll come back later. There are points in this game where you can finally get to see what those characters are up to. There’s also areas and ideas that are just talked about – you’ll see Gelflings from all the clans.”
The “Gelfling clans” are referring to the various factions of Gelflings that existed during the time of the Age of Rebellion and before the original film, and it is interesting to see more of the lore presented in the way – especially for things that may otherwise go unseen. It was interesting to learn, too, that Henson Studios lent their expertise to the game’s development team, suggesting tweaks to character designs and making sure that Tactics stays true to the DC lore.
“The level of feedback was so specific and so helpful,” says Whitfield. Like, ‘I think the ears on this Gelfling are just a little off – adjust it this way,’ or ‘The clothing on this character can be tweaked slightly to align more with the rest of the clan.’ So that gave us a lot of really great places to dig into it, to go to the creature shop and ask them for more of those specific details and references.”
From a gameplay standpoint, Dark Crystal: AoR Tactics seems to be a straightforward and intuitive turn-based tactics experience. You’ll begin a battle – our demo had a small group of Gelflings attempting to subdue the infamous Skesis known as Chamberlain, who was flanked by a group of Gelfling warriors from an opposing clan – and when your turn comes up, make your move and take your action.
Actions can range from attacking an enemy to healing a teammate to lobbing a potion or spell for an AoE effect. Multiple character archetypes – plus some additional skill shuffling you can do in your management screens – allow for a varied mix of tactical options, and I found the AI to offer an enjoyable challenge (my Gelflings sadly did not survive their bout with Chamberlain).
While I can’t say I know how The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics will shape up in the end, I appreciate BonusXP’s attention to detail and clear fondness for the source material. I still don’t see a very wide target audience – fans of the series will have already binged the story and Henson’s world seems an unlikely pick for pure tactics players – but for myself (and the one other WHOO-er in our midst), I’ll gladly check it out when it releases later this year – even if it’s just to get revenge on that dirty Chamberlain.